Giant Bomb Review

300 Comments

Gone Home Review

5
  • PC

This house has a story to tell, and players patient enough to listen will be rewarded with a touching story that won't soon leave you.

Have you ever walked by an empty house, and thought about going inside? A house is just a pile of bricks until someone lives inside, and then it becomes a home. Houses have stories to tell, so long as we’re willing to listen. Gone Home, the debut game from The Fullbright Company, is about one very specific house with one very specific story, and it’s asking you to listen closely.

Lights turn off and on, drawers open and shut--Gone Home's house is full of unbelievable details of the mundane variety.

It’s difficult to talk about Gone Home without saying more than should be said for anyone already sold on it. Do know that Gone Home has lived up to sky-high expectations for the next project from the creative team that delivered the exceptional Minerva's Den add-on for BioShock 2. For anyone that’s curious to know more about what makes Gone Home work so darn well, keep on reading.

Gone Home is set in 1995, and opens with the arrival of Kaitlin Greenbriar. That’s you. Returning from a whirlwind trip through Europe in the dead of night, Kaitlin approaches the front steps of her house during the height of a crackling thunderstorm, greeted by a hastily hand-written note from her younger sister, Sam. The note instructs Kaitlin that she’s gone and not to worry, which, of course, is every reason to worry. What happened here? Gone Home is played from a first-person-perspective, and there is no combat. This is a game about exploration, though one not without its share of tension. But you will never pick up a gun, and your primary means of interacting with the world is opening doors, shuffling papers, and closely examining nooks and crannies of your family's house. If you think you can touch it and interact with it, chances are The Fullbright Company will give you the option to.

Though Kaitlin’s family lives in this house, everything is unfamiliar. There’s a map that fills in as you progress through the house, appropriately labeled as it becomes clear what each room’s function is. The Fullbright Company has meticulous hidden letters, books, notes, magazines, manuscripts, inscriptions, cassette tapes, labeled recordings of X-Files episodes, and countless other objects throughout the house. Hidden is the wrong word, though. If someone was tasked with combing through your home and building a narrative from what was inside, it might feel like some of your stuff was hidden, too. Instead, this place feels incredibly natural. It looks...like a home. It’s messy, there are boxes everywhere, and Kaitlin’s mom was probably upset about the lack of help. There are no objects fluttering with gold dazzles to signify their importance. It is absolutely possible to miss key bits of information, but if you never knew they existed, how important were they? The story you tell in your head is only as real as the the information in front of you. Do missing pieces matter, then?

By god, though, is it fun to look at the pieces. They are everywhere, and each colored with immaculate detail. Fans of the high-resolution image genre will fall over themselves looking through the meticulously detailed pieces of history The Fullbright Company has constructed. The few times where images aren't detailed enough to read the tiniest bits of text are disappointing, but only because nearly every other spot in the house has been given such close attention. Heck, there are even physics associated with some of the objects. Cassette tape holders open, flip around, and reveal secret messages to those clever enough to manipulate them in the right way. And for those who are worried about causing a mess, the game even includes the ability to place things exactly as they were. It's the kind of touch that speaks volumes about the game's design values.

There is a path through the game, but how long you spend on that path is mostly up to you. There is very little preventing the player from barreling through the main storyline, though you’ll have to slow down to discover triggers that signal how to access locked parts of the house. These bits are deliberately easy to find, and are often closely connected to a series of voice overs by Sam, talking as though she is right next to you. (Sam is voiced by Portland voice actor Sarah Grayson, and she does excellent work here.) If anything, what’s difficult is convincing yourself to move to the next room. Patience is rewarded in Gone Home, as patience will help you discover the answers to all of your questions. Everything you want to know can be found within the house, though the game will not connect the dots for you. There is no plot summary, and material is sometimes presented out of order. This makes exploring the house, even after the story ends, continually satisfying.

Without spoiling, this all makes Gone Home sounds much more mysterious than it actually is. Still, it’s impossible to explore the house without cringing as a door creaks opens, or you start walking into the basement. Thunder and lightning strike without notice, making their appearance all the more startling, but it’s not timed to the flickering of lights or an eerie noise down the hall. There are no jump scares in Gone Home, and there are no ghosts hiding in a closet. But all the same, Gone Home feels exceedingly creepy, and the game thoughtfully plays with the differences between its dramatic presentation and the actions actually playing out on the screen. I mean, when you’re alone at home and it’s time to turn off the lights, it’s easy to tell yourself there’s nothing following you around the house, but once that idea pops into your head, it’s hard to let go.

Not everything in Gone Home is there for a reason. Much of it is there to color the world, and provide a sense of time and place.

The experience of playing Gone Home becomes more impressive upon reflection. We’re used to games hitting us over the head with big plot twists and character moments. Games are often the opposite of subtle out of fear the audience will not understand the magnitude of the moment. “We wrote this story, and this big thing happened, you see, and you better get it!.” As the layers are removed from Gone Home’s story, there is no suite of violins to underscore the revelations, and no characters to remind us what we just read or heard. (Chris Remo's soundtrack is, however, hauntingly beautiful.) Gone Home places an impressive amount of faith into the player to discover what The Fullbright Company has laid out before them, and seems willing to lose players who aren’t going to put in the effort to come along. There is, for lack of a better phrase, a “holy shit” moment early on in the game, and it acts as though nothing's happened. The house is still there, you’re still alone, and it's time to move on.

Prepare for a nostalgia hit, too, and not just '90s references. Gone Home will remind you what it’s like to be young, naive, and full of passion. Everything mattered and nothing mattered. No one understands you and no one ever will. The world is both infinite and unfathomably small. As the story unfolds, what’s remarkable is just how unremarkable it really is. Gone Home is an epic story, but its definition of epic is far removed from how we usually talk about scope and drama in games. It’s epic, personal and revelatory to the people involved, and that’s why it’s so special. The moments in my life that I cherish the most--my first love, realizing my brother was my best friend, moving to San Francisco, getting married--would not register against saving the universe from an alien threat, but these are the epic moments in my life. Gone Home grounds itself by reveling in life’s quiet, defining moments, the ones you might write down in a diary, underneath a set of books, only to find years later.

What a crazy kid you were.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
313 Comments
Edited by JammyJesus

What a wonderful game. Glad I took the time to play it.

Posted by mbr2

@parsnip said:

It's a bit too expensive for what it is.

You just described all AAA games.

Posted by Parsnip

@mbr2 said:

@parsnip said:

It's a bit too expensive for what it is.

You just described all AAA games.

Doesn't make it any less true.

Posted by Uberjannie

All this text! Where do I toss my money at??

Edited by BenderUnit22

Interesting game, but it didn't blow me away. I feel most of the high review scores are based solely on the "I can't believe they made a game on this subject matter, this game is so important, we gotta hype the shit out of it" factor.

It's a nice story about love with family drama sprinkled in, but it's not much more than a better, more interactive Dear Esther.

Edited by SuperSonic1305

There is actually a jump scare though it is easy to miss

Pick up the crucifix in the secret passage

Posted by horseman6

It was a foregone conclusion that if Patrick reviewed this he would give it a 5. Not only is this not a game but it's shallow, with characters and situations that attract certain types of people with certain mindsets; that the game industry is misogynistic and homophobic. So when a "game" comes along that goes against the norm, it's a great achievement, no matter how poorly thought out and implemented it really is.

I recognize what the developers of Gone Home were attempting to do. What Gone Home ended up being is nothing more than a poorly written and misleading book, wrapped up in an interactive environment. It's predictable, boring, irritating, and left me in a sour state. I felt like my $20 was stolen from me. I don't want to go into spoilers but please read the eurogamer review before you buy this game, don't rely on Patrick (who usually has good taste) or places like Polygon for an objective analysis.

Edited by daleis

The story is full of holes and all the characters are only half finished and kind of don't make sense as a result. I think they cut a huge swath of this game out in order to release it before other titles start dominating the market next week and it's kind of a shitty game as a result. I get that everyone has to praise it to hell and back otherwise they will seem "insensitive" or "unsophisticated" or whatever but it's just NOT a very well told story that makes a lot of sense, and given that's the whole game it really just doesn't work.

Posted by TheRedDeath

This game looks super God damn creepy. I'm a coward, and I really don't want to play it.

Posted by bybeach

Had no problem buying this game after the OL. Nice review, intelligent. And yes, this game was exactly what I needed...

Though I am wondering about that War-Hammer effort later..

Edited by JasonR86

This game looks super God damn creepy. I'm a coward, and I really don't want to play it.

It isn't.

Edited by infantpipoc

@callumshell1:

Yeah, and a story that hit home for more people.

Posted by Nettacki

@koolaid said:

@patrickklepek

I heard it suggested that the best way to experience your first playthrough is to disable the dairy voice over. What do you think of this?

I'm not sure why someone would recommend that. Emotion is much harder to express via text than it is via spoken word. The voice overs quite literally bring the journal entries to life, and I don't feel the story would have near the same oomph without them.

Because some people don't want everything told to them through someone's voice, especially if the whole point of the game is to tell the story through exploration. The moment a character tries to explain what's going on, especially if it's done in a heavy-handed way, people end up losing immersion to the game and start feeling like the game's treating them like an idiot.

Posted by granderojo

I am 100% okay being the indie hipster lovechild on Giant Bomb. You won't seem me regret that label for a single second, and am completely comfortable and happy loving these types of games and telling other people how much I love 'em, too. You enjoy your games, and I'll enjoy mine. We both win.

It's a wonderful experience but it's a bummer that they're charging a steep enough price that they have people even questioning buying it after reading experience you had with it. Its a disservice to the game they made really.

I completely agree with your review, and you aren't mr. indie hipster.

Posted by CaLe

Just finished it. I would not recommend paying full price for this. Getting anything from the story requires that you fundamentally care about human emotion and are somewhat open-minded. I dunno which one I'm lacking in this specific case, but it did nothing for me personally.

Edited by reelife

5/5?

Here's the entire story summed up fast:

Girl comes home to family of 4, 2 daughters + parents. One daughter = lesbian, family not OK with that, father angry, lesbian sad, lesbian has a hipster HARDCORE ROCK'N ROLL rebel girlfriend, sparkle in some teenage problem bullshit BAM lesbian leaves home to live with rebel

I just saved you 20 bucks.

Posted by Drekly

@skareo said:

Bad gameplay. Bad graphics. 2 hours long. 10/10

Damn, they better use that on any upcoming trailer.

Posted by Stimpack
Edited by Invader_DooMest

I bought it on Steam, played it, finished it. It was alright. I just kinda breezed through it. The story was interesting but I felt it was a lot of hype for just a "ehh" payoff.

The jump scare was not scary at all, my eyes just kinda looked up and went "...oh"

Posted by Vrikk

Sounds like Dear Esther but with gameplay.

Glad I'm not the only one that didn't like that game. Good concept, dumb execution.

Edited by frustratedlnc

I didn't read the review before going in and I really should have. I saw part of the quick look (up to the bathroom) and five star rating and put together that I'd have a decent mystery game to play through. Usually, I can shrug off a bad purchase. This is one of only a handful of games that left me really sour. It had all the emotional impact of an episode of Saved By the Bell. I just couldn't stop rolling my eyes through the entire thing.

Posted by JoeyRavn

I absolutely loved the game. The price may be a bit too much, but, hey, it's well worth it, IMO. The "main" story of the game was very well done, if you ask me, but what really captivated me was the little bits and pieces from Oscar's past story and how it affects the lives of the characters in the present. I loved how the thing that happened was left unsaid, but, at the same time, tied in perfectly with the rest of the story.

A truly amazing game, in my opinion. I was scared, I was sad, I was curious, I was touched, I was relieved and I, in the end, I was happy. That's much more than what most games manage to do to me nowadays, and I wholeheartedly welcome the change.

Posted by bwmcmaste

@patrickklepek

Spoilers below.

I swear I was super creeped out for like 3/4 of the game until I finally realized that it wasn't going to pull any kind of insane jump scare, paranormal trick on me. I also actually thought that it was going to end in a double suicide in the attic. . . An amazing game. Really well done ending and very nice review.

That perfectly describes my experience with the game.

Edited by RadixNegative2

The way the game managed to freak me out while slowly revealing the story was incredible. I was never able to tell what was actually going on, even when I thought I did several times. Is there a ghost? Is everyone away because of something terrible that happened? Is this just a trick being played on your character?

The eventual reveal was great, but better is the fact that even at the end of the game I'm still not done. This game is more than just the main story. I still don't fully understand the context in which the story took place. I've read some reviews and pieces on the game only to realize that there is so much that I missed. Only the main story of the game is essentially handed to the player, everything else must be worked for.

For this reason I love the game. I'm so happy a game exists that doesn't hand you everything or think you can't go five minutes without shooting someone in the head. Hopefully we get more games like this in the future. In the meantime, I think I'm going to go back to the house to invade everyone's privacy some more ;)

Posted by Evilsbane

I didn't read the review before going in and I really should have. I saw part of the quick look (up to the bathroom) and five star rating and put together that I'd have a decent mystery game to play through. Usually, I can shrug off a bad purchase. This is one of only a handful of games that left me really sour. It had all the emotional impact of an episode of Saved By the Bell. I just couldn't stop rolling my eyes through the entire thing.

Yea I walked away pretty disappointed, I wouldn't quite say Saved By the Bell level of impact but it just ended up being flat exploring a house for 1 1/2 after you have LONG since figured out what was going on was boring.

Edited by AV_Gamer

OVERRATED!

Clearly these developers have a lot of friends in the video game industry to give this game rave reviews. Yes, it has a toughing story, very short touching story. But I've read fan fictions that had more impact on the subject of a teenage lesbian relationship. I could go on, but let me say again OVERRATED!

Edited by Landon

@nettacki said:

@chrystolis said:
@koolaid said:

@patrickklepek

I heard it suggested that the best way to experience your first playthrough is to disable the dairy voice over. What do you think of this?

I'm not sure why someone would recommend that. Emotion is much harder to express via text than it is via spoken word. The voice overs quite literally bring the journal entries to life, and I don't feel the story would have near the same oomph without them.

Because some people don't want everything told to them through someone's voice, especially if the whole point of the game is to tell the story through exploration. The moment a character tries to explain what's going on, especially if it's done in a heavy-handed way, people end up losing immersion to the game and start feeling like the game's treating them like an idiot.

Then it's a good thing the voice overs don't do that. They don't share the exact same information as any of the text, and in a few cases they revealed completely new bits to the overall story (at least bits I couldn't find in text form).

Also, the game has a really creepy atmosphere. Even knowing that nothing is going to jump out and spook you, I still got the feeling that SOMETHING like that was going to happen. And the voice overs are well acted and the actress has such a lovely voice it really helped eased the tension and allowed me to keep exploring.

Edited by Landon

@daleis said:

The story is full of holes

Or maybe you didn't find the connecting information.

Posted by BambamCZ

From the review it sounds like Home, but without the horror twist. Though maybe Home leaves more space than Gone Home for the player to interpret the story and that's what I loved about playing Home few times over. I guess I'll have to see for myself. You've got me interested, Mr.Klepek.

Edited by MeAuntieNora

Just finished the game myself, having avoided all the spoilers and even stopped the Quick Look when they told me to stop.

That was... fantastic. It's almost hard to immediately put my feelings into words, especially so fresh off the credit roll. I will say that, for me, there are elements that coincide eerily well with aspects of my life, far more so than just the "yesteryear nostalgia" aspect. At certain key moments in the game, I was literally holding back tears because of how easily I could think of myself and people I know, meanwhile I could not stop playing.

Beyond just the subjective emotional impact, it's easy to rave about the subtlety and the interlocking complexity which are handled so well, and the flickers of suggestion that you're playing a horror game are handled so well it's kind of mind-boggling.

The reactionary push from the other side that this game is pretentious and the people who like it are pompous, and are just desperate to label themselves as in-crowd intellectuals seems patently false to me... This game paints in fairly broad strokes for much of the time, and in fact does absolutely nothing to ostracize any specific audience. Its gameplay is neither overblown nor simplified to the point of any number of indie-cred bullshit nongames. It's readily apparent that it's closer to something like Penumbra or Amnesia, neither of which anyone has ever claimed is "not a game."

Edited by FMinus

I actually played it now on a friends account and I must say the story is somewhat interesting, but the game lacks any kind of substance that you could call it a game.

The whole package reminds me more of an interactive tour I did in 1995/6 for a local gallery in VRML for web browsers. You could walk around the gallery space freely and read text next to paintings.

My initial statement stays, not worth $20.

Posted by DeathbyYeti

This seems like the type of game journalist and the internet need

I want to stress the words game and journalist

Online
Posted by TiE23

I watched the first few minutes of the Quick Look and heeded the advice to "just buy it". So I did.

$20 for 100 minutes (I looked and read everything) and a story that is less mysterious and interesting than Dear Esther. It was interesting but not life changing.

Essentially it starts out really cool, where I assumed it would be some haunted or scary game. But as you go from room to room the mystery starts to disappear and the answer starts to become obvious. Everything is given an explanation. I didn't feel that there was a revelation-- just an explanation conveniently placed for everything.

All of this, and the fact that my own younger sister has been going through similar motions in her life like Sam. So it more resonated with me than perhaps others, and still I was left kind of disappointed.

Still worth playing, for certain. But as crass as it may sound, the $20 price tag felt seriously inflated.

Posted by sins_of_mosin

@ministry4390: Overreact much?

His comment was an observation and there was nothing wrong with it.

Posted by Creamypies

Game of the year (so far) for me. Which is weird, considering there's very little "game" here. Either way, the story that is told and the narration you get throughout hit me harder than any other game this year. Beautifully written, perfectly narrated and brilliantly scored (good job Remo)! Fantastic review too, Patrick. Really wish you did more of them, because you are a great writer.

Posted by crcruz3

I really enjoyed this game.

Edited by Killerfridge

I loved this game and anyone saying they can sum up the story in a line or two is really missing the point.

Edited by zodstein

It was an ok "game". You could see what was coming from 5 minutes into it. It is very heavy-handed, and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot because it's just so damn obvious. And yes, expect the gaming press to overrate this one just because of the subject matter. I find myself hard pressed to call these things games, when there really is no mechanics or any challenge. I just feel like the gaming press wants the industry to feel "edgy" and "artsy" so bad, they will overrate things like this to see what kind of attention they can bring their own ruminations on certain subjects.

Edited by Balki_Bartokomous

An OK interactive experience (not game). I enjoyed my time with it, but would feel better had it been $10 rather than 20. The story deals with themes that may be considered mature by "video game standards", but if this were a movie, it would be aired on the Lifetime network. The cynic in me can't help but believe that the raving reviews are a result of gaming journalists' attempts to distance themselves from the misogny & homophobia attributed (often unfairly) to the gaming community rather than a true measure of the quality of the story itself.

Posted by xbob42

@zodstein said:

It was an ok "game". You could see what was coming from 5 minutes into it. It is very heavy-handed, and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot because it's just so damn obvious. And yes, expect the gaming press to overrate this one just because of the subject matter. I find myself hard pressed to call these things games, when there really is no mechanics or any challenge. I just feel like the gaming press wants the industry to feel "edgy" and "artsy" so bad, they will overrate things like this to see what kind of attention they can bring their own ruminations on certain subjects.

You could see your sister working through finding out she's a lesbian? You could see a marriage faltering and then being slowly restored? You could see a man's abuse as a child haunting him his entire life, changing how he interacted with his family, his job and life in general, and him finally beginning to get over it? All within 5 minutes? Damn, you must be the greatest motherfucking storyteller ever. Please, let us in on the masterworks you've been working on.

Posted by xbob42

@reelife said:

5/5?

Here's the entire story summed up fast:

Girl comes home to family of 4, 2 daughters + parents. One daughter = lesbian, family not OK with that, father angry, lesbian sad, lesbian has a hipster HARDCORE ROCK'N ROLL rebel girlfriend, sparkle in some teenage problem bullshit BAM lesbian leaves home to live with rebel

I just saved you 20 bucks.

Bullshit.

There's entire substories of Terrance being abused as a child by his uncle, who in turn as way of seeking atonement left everything to him in his will, of his wife struggling with how he's been different since they moved into the house (she doesn't realize) where he was abused as a child and becomes distant. She's tempted but chooses not to start going out with a new guy at work. There's a lot more going on than "MY SISTER IS A LESBIAN: THE GAME."

Jesus, it's like you rushed through the game and assumed that's all there was. The entire point of the game is to explore a house and find out what story there is, not to go from point A to B and just hear the voice-overs.

Fucking people, I swear.

Posted by Evilsbane

I loved this game and anyone saying they can sum up the story in a line or two is really missing the point.

It wasn't bad but as someone who normally really loves stuff like this I felt mislead BY THE GAME which was actually one of its strengths it starts SO VERY Strong with the misdirection and then just....Plop here is the answer to what is happening within the first hour and I then spent 1 1/2 just trying to finish the game because I had long since figured out on my own what had happened everything around it led to nothing, no revelation no mystery once you go OK I know what this is about all the red herrings felt meaningless. Like when I found the alter under the stairs at that point I had been wandering around the house for 45mins going YEP She is a stressed teenager who is being told what she is feeling is wrong so all the stolen stuff and everything else going on was just her running away from home which...actually isn't that great of a thing considering the with how the real world works will more than likely end badly but that is beside the point.

All in all I was left feeling like I had been preached to and even if I didn't hate the message it just wasn't as well done as I felt was being said.

Posted by AV_Gamer

Some of you Gone Home defenders need to let it go. Yes, exploring the house and uncovering dark secrets about the family members was done well, but it was no different than what you find in actual games like the Silent Hill series, Clock Tower series, Resident Evil series (before it went pure action), any top point-and-click adventure game, etc.

If this game was so impressive to some people, then I recommend playing Silent Hill 2 for those who've haven't already. The game was released over a decade ago; it's an actually game, but has a superior plot, superior writing, superior characters, and superior information you find while exploring. That game is a classic, this one will be forgotten months from now.

Like I said: I see what they did with it, but still overrated with video game community biased scoring.

Posted by ultrapeanut

I've been eagerly anticipating this for months, but I started to worry it was getting overhyped when the flood of praise came out. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooope.

Posted by Balki_Bartokomous

Best Judy Blume novel I've read in years!

Posted by Balki_Bartokomous

Best Nancy Drew game since The Secret of the Scarlett Hand!

Posted by ma_rc_01

What got me was the fact that the game uses my preconceived ideas of what a game should be.

Well obviously the whole family was murdered by ghosts `cause this is a videogame and it needs to be crazy, no its just regular problems that real people could have. That`s how I guessed the ending of Minerva`s Den and Bioshock infinite, just think about the craziest thing that could happen and that`s probably it.

Posted by jamessmarion
Posted by joe1138

Played and just finished Gone Home based on all the buzz. Went in with very little knowledge and was completely surprised by it. Loved reading your thoughts afterward, Patrick. What a beautiful experience this is.